July 31 marked the 40th anniversary of Ipswich’s worst mining disaster at Box Flat when an explosion killed 17 men. Hundreds of family, friends, former miners and officials surrounded the memorial to commemorate the event.
“Each and every loss drives home to us the need to be eternally vigilant at work and to ensure that under no circumstances will we ever compromise on safety and health in our mines,” Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CMFEU) general secretary Andrew Vickers said.
Retired miner Beres Evans lived in Ipswich at the time of the Box Flat explosion. “It is something you don't forget, the shake of the homes. We thought it was an earthquake,'' he said.
Mr Evans later became a managing director at the mine, and while the seam that exploded continued to be mined, the tunnel with the bodies of those who died was never reopened.
The Booval Mines Rescue Brigade lost 14 of its members in the disaster and brigade member Lance Waldon was blown 300 metres by the blast.
"I went to the hospital with burns and then went back out to the pit," he said.
Rescue and recovery operations were proposed but were not undertaken due to the danger of further explosions and the reality that no one could possibly have survived the explosion underground. The mine was sealed. Critical injuries sustained from the incident eventually claimed the life of another man.
Many of the dead were members of the CFMEU and spokesman Greg Dalliston said the tragedy led to Queensland implementing some of the best mine safety legislation in the world.
Vickers said that on the occasion of this anniversary and other tragedies that occurred in the past, all mineworkers should reflect on the vital importance of mine safety.
July has traditionally been a dark month for miners. In addition to the Flat Box tragedy, 31 July was also the 110th anniversary of the Port Kembla explosion which killed 96 workers, including boys, and is reputedly Australia’s greatest ever industrial disaster. 24 July also marked the 33rd anniversary of the Appin coal mine explosion that took the lives of 14 miners in 1979. 16 July was the 26th anniversary of the Moura No. 4 coal mine explosion in Central Queensland that took the lives of 12 miners.
Sources: The Courier Mail, The CMFEU, Newswire, The Ipswich Advertiser